LEIGH Leopards have been awarded an Academy Licence by the Rugby Football League with effect from the 2025 season.

The exciting news was announced at the Leopards Business Club at the Leopards Den when the wide range of opportunities for businesses to get involved in the Elite Academy and player pathway were outlined.

Derek Beaumont has long had the vision of an Elite Academy and player pathway at the Club, and the consolidation of Super League status leading to this successful application has made that dream come true.

Beaumont said: “I am absolutely thrilled to receive this news, something I have always wanted to achieve at the club.

"It was always my dream to walk out at Wembley, however I always thought that was more possible than building a successful academy, something today’s decision gives us the opportunity to continue to do.

“I say continue as we started building this after the successful Super League bid when myself, my wife and (chairman) Mike Latham spearheaded a fantastic document (in 2021) with support from our club and wider community.

“It was a document we poured our heart and souls into, as it meant so much to us. I will never forget the hours spent and the meticulous detail.

"The decision not to grant us a licence at the time left me completely deflated as I couldn’t have imagined that there were 12 better propositions.

“For a brief period, I felt a lack of direction.

"However, I overcame that deflation and encouraged others to do so following my beliefs that you only fail at something when you stop trying and we took heed of the feedback and made what I knew then and has been proven now a fantastic appointment in Kieron Purtill as Head of Youth.”

Mr Beaumont continued: “I knew Kieron was still Super League head coach quality, but I also knew he had an overriding passion for youth rugby and youth rugby in Leigh and that if he had the opportunity to be fully supported in being the catalyst to achieve it he would.

“Having seen his work and what he has accomplished in that period, it now makes perfect sense to me why our initial bid couldn’t really be successful.

"It was nought to 100 overnight and whilst many who work with or around me know that I often deliver in that way, I can see why that didn’t look feasible and given what I know now I can accept that.

“It needed us to deliver on the things we stated, and Kieron did that and more. I would like to pay a massive respect to Kieron and those that have assisted him and I know he will feel equally, if not more, proud of this decision than me or anyone else connected to the club.

“It enables us to embrace the fantastic talent in our town and fully connect the junior and professional ranks to the professional club.

"He has accomplished this with his own self driven belief and determination, compiling a fantastic presentation, resulting in a successful bid and I am particularly pleased that he led it himself from the front.

“He deserves all the accolades for his outstanding work, often well beyond the call of his duty whilst also running and coaching the women’s team, something I will not allow to go unrecognised.

“We have now achieved five of the seven main objectives of our five- year plan, although one of those is yet to be formally confirmed later in the year.

“However, this news isn’t the end, it's the beginning, it’s the beginning of a massive challenge for our town, its people, and its businesses.

“It creates opportunities for local people, as coaches, backroom staff, talent ID and medical and more than anything opportunities for our townsfolk to represent their hometown team.

“It is upon us all to make the most of this opportunity and I look forward to the day when the fruits of Kieron’s labour result in the first by-product of today’s announcement crossing the whitewash in the Leopards Den to ‘be the roar’.

“Kieron has set the bar high with his bold and ambitious beliefs concerning the number of academy graduates that will be included in the first team squad in 2034. Given what he has achieved here in a short space of time, why can’t he achieve those goals in a decade? I believe with the full support of the town together we can.

“Savour the moment Leythers. it’s a very special one indeed."

Leopards Head of Youth and Women’s Head Coach Kieron Purtill spearheaded the successful application process, having worked towards the award since re-joining the Club in October 2022.

“This is great news for the Club and the town of Leigh,” he said. “It gives an opportunity for the best young players in the town to have a pathway through to the first team.

“It’s the first time we have had an Academy for 20 years and if you look back over that period a lot of very talented Leigh born players have signed for other professional clubs who had an Academy system in place.

“If you say at a conservative estimate 20 young players a year that’s 400 players.

“Currently there are over 40 Leigh born players at other clubs and that’s why we aim that fifty percent of our first team squad be Academy produced in 2034.”

The Academy award extends the strong infrastructure at the club which has been developed since gaining promotion to Super League at the end of the 2022 season.

“The application to the RFL was evidence based and we worked closely with the RFL as an ongoing project,” Mr Purtill explained.

“Behind the scenes we ticked every box without having an academy. We had development days, an under 15s and 16s team, developed a link with the college team and this year we have had a Reserves team in the Reserves League.

“We have the infrastructure behind the scenes in terms of coaches, staff, players, facilities, and the administration side of things like coach and player handbooks and online platforms that monitor the players’ development from introduction to an exit route.

“This successful application now allows us to run an elite pathway whereas up to now we have had a development pathway.

“It gives us the opportunity to sign players who are then contracted for two years, and we will be running a team in the Academy League next year.

“Realistically it is a long-term project, and we may not see the full benefits for five to ten years, but this is a great thing for our town. The challenge is now to make the most of this opportunity.”

Kieron Purtill himself came through the Wigan Academy system and his son Jack recently played for Leeds Rhinos Academy before moving to Wigan.

“Having our own Academy has so many spin-offs,” Mr Purtill continued. “Parents will have the chance for their children to stay local instead of having to travel to develop their Rugby League pathway.

“It also gives an opportunity for coaches and staff to learn, develop and grow through an academy system, physios, conditioners, team managers all have a pathway as well.

“It will also give us a greater opportunity to develop our Reserves side. Now we are limited to having 55 players registered, which includes the first team squad of around 32. With an academy in place, we can have 75 registered players.

“We are also mindful that young players develop at different ages so we can have an elite scholarship and a development scholarship alongside it, giving players an entrance point at different levels.

“It’s not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term project. We’ve not had an academy for 20 years so it will take time.

“But it’s great news and what Leigh has been crying out for.”